Archive for October, 2008


WATCH: Thieves and Liars: Exxon’s Plundering of Americans Breaks Another Record

Friday, October 31st, 2008

This is the kind of thing that makes me shiver with absolute fury. Exxon (oft regarded as the most damaging, irresponsible, greedy, and dangerous corporation inflicted upon modern man) is being rewarded for their plundering with another quarter of record profits. The AP is reporting that Exxon has demolished its previous quarterly profits record of $11.68 billion (set three months ago), but hauling in $14.83 billion in the three months since its last record.

In celebration of this dark day in history, I thought I’d publish this video from Riki Ott, author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. The video features representatives from Exxon talking to the people of the community of Cordova, Alaska just days after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. As Riki points out in her book, every promise you hear on this video being made to the devastated community members has been broken.

Food Prices: A better way…

Friday, October 31st, 2008

If my life were a country-western song, “There’s just gotta be a better way….” would be the refrain. It goes something like this:

Gas prices growin’, the economy is slowin’.
Can’t find a buck to help me through the daaaaay.
I drive to the food mart, pay a mortgage for my food cart.
I wish my kids could just eat my horses’ haaaaay.

Oh, I can’t pay for food today.
No, I can’t pay for food too-oodaaaay.
Food prices growin’, paychecks are slowin’.
Oh, there’s just gotta be a better waaaay.

Insert a steel guitar, a slow harmonica, plenty of twang, and well…you get the point. The truth is that, for a number of reasons, food prices are skyrocketing. The Guardian posted a great summary of five major contributing factors, which include:

  1. surging energy prices,
  2. increased demand due to population growth,
  3. droughts devastating grain-producing countries,
  4. biofuel crops competing for land, and
  5. speculative trading of food commodities

Analysts will debate how to weight the influence of each of these factors, and then policy-wonks will debate the best methods for reversing the effects, and then politicians will debate the cheapest ways to get everything done by some random date way off in the future. I get so frustrated watching the powers-that-be move in circles that I can’t help but thinking … Oh, there’s just gotta be a better waaaay….

Eliot Coleman has a better way: Avoid food prices all together. Eliot has been growing his own organic vegetables (for consumption and for sale) year-round for over 30 years. He’s designed a system of greenhouses and high tunnels that allow him to keep fertile gardens for all four seasons…even through the brutal winters in his hometown of Harborside, Maine. Coupled with his cattle, sheep, and range poultry, Eliot has fresh food all year round without ever making a trip to the grocery store.

Eliot’s book, Four-Season Harvest, explains how he does it all. You can download Eliot’s chapter called The Covered Garden: Greenhouses and High Tunnels here. In it you will find Eliot’s greenhouse designs, high tunnel construction plans, a mobile greenhouse, maintenance tips, plotting maps, winter gardening techniques, and advice on deterring pests.

Download The Covered Garden: Greenhouses and High Tunnels from Four-Season Harvest.

Podcast: Naomi Wolf on The Global Research News Hour

Friday, October 31st, 2008

On Monday, Naomi Wolf, author of The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, spoke to Stephen Lendman on the Republic Broadcasting Network’s Global Research News Hour (an initiative of the Centre for Research on Globalization). They discussed her new book—Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries—the country’s fascist shift, George Bush and his deployment of US troops to US soil, and the actions a concerned citizen should take to ensure democracy.

(One correction: Early in the program, Stephen Lendman says Naomi Wolf is associated with “Third World Feminism”; he meant “Third Wave Feminism)

Listen now:

The Promise of the Fuel Cell-Powered Future

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

From its very beginning, fuel cell technology has had a skeptical “too-good-to-be-true” eye cast down upon it. Electrical power with no moving parts, no combustion, and no noxious exhaust? Truly, this is a sham…right? No. Actually, it’s quite promising.

Heralded by prominent scientists as the technology breakthrough of our time, fuel cell technology is finally coming into its own by powering toys, cars, homes, and even skyscrapers. Matthew Stein, author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency, explains below how fuel cells work, their surprisingly long history, and their promise for powering tomorrow.

From When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency:

The fuel cell has recently been termed the “microchip of the energy industry.” . . . The fuel cell may well go down in history as one of the most important technological developments of the coming century, just as the airplane, automobile and computer were for the last one.

Glenn D. Rambach, Director of Engineering and Applied Science, QuantumSphere, Inc.

Fuel cells are receiving considerable press these days, being heralded as a major part of the solution to global warming and fossil fuel depletion. A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine at converting fuel into power. Fuel cells produce electricity, water, and heat by combining hydrogen with oxygen from the air. A fuel cell only produces electricity while fuel is supplied to it. The reaction occurs at relatively low temperatures, and no combustion takes place in the fuel cell.

Even though the first fuel cell was demonstrated by British amateur physicist William Grove in 1839, it took the space program to focus attention and development money on the creation of efficient fuel cells to provide safe, clean electrical power for moon shots. After the patents ran out, General Electric (the developer of the space program fuel cells) mostly lost interest in fuel cell technology. Geoffrey Ballard, an idealistic former geologist, persisted through years of financial hardship to spearhead research into economically feasible fuel cells that could power cars, homes, and industry. Starting in a makeshift lab in Arizona, Ballard Power Systems has brought fuel cell technology to the point where fuel cell–driven vehicles and fuel cell–powered skyscrapers are now a reality. For a fascinating look at the technical and human story behind the Ballard fuel cell, see Powering the Future by Tom Koppel.

How Fuel Cells Work
Like a battery, fuel cells convert chemical energy into electricity. In the case of a battery, when the battery has discharged its available power and the electrochemical reaction is all used up, the battery is thrown away if it is not reusable. If it is reusable, it is “recharged,” which reverses the electrochemical reaction to separate the chemicals back into a state where they are ready to create more electricity. Unlike batteries, fuel cells use external fuel to convert chemical energy into electricity, so they don’t need recharging, but they do need a steady supply
of fuel. Fuel cells generally work by separating an oxygen source from a hydrogen source using a nonconducting permeable barrier, called an “electrolyte.” Oxygen or hydrogen ions flow through the electrolyte to the other side of this barrier, where they are encouraged by a catalyst to combine chemically to form water. To restore electrical balance, the resulting excess electrons left on one side (electrons can’t pass through the nonconducting electrolyte) are transported around the electrolyte through wires and a load, such as an electric motor.

Click for a larger image.

There are five primary types of fuel cells, each distinguished by the type of electrolyte used to carry charge between the fuel and the oxygen. Sharon Thomas and Marcia Zalbowitz of the Los Alamos National Laboratory have written Fuel Cells: Green Power, an excellent comprehensive introduction to fuel cells. Fuel Cells covers fuel cell history, basics, chemistry, applications, and the potential impact on global warming and pollution. You can download it for free from http://www.lanl.gov/orgs/mpa/mpa11/Green%20Power.pdf.

Efficiency and Environmental Considerations

Today, only about one-third of the energy consumed reaches the actual user because of the low energy conversion efficiencies of power plants. In fact, fossil and nuclear plants in the U.S. vent 21 quads of heat into the atmosphere—more heat than all the homes and commercial buildings in the country use in one year! Using fuel cells for utility applications can improve energy efficiency by as much as 60 percent while reducing environmental emissions.

Sharon Thomas and Marcia Zalbowitz, Fuel Cells: Green Power

Fuel cells are considerably more efficient than internal combustion engines. Gasoline engines in automobiles are approximately 13 to 25 percent efficient. That means that 75 to 87 percent of the gasoline you put in your tank is wasted as unburned fuel or excess heat. Fuel cells convert fuel directly into electricity through a chemical reaction and already have efficiencies of 45 to 58 percent. Fuel cells attached to an electric motor can have system efficiencies of more than 40 percent, including motor losses (DRI 2000, 1). If the excess heat generated by the fuel cells is captured and used for hot water or space heating, overall system efficiency can rise to over 80 percent (Plug Power 2000).

Fuel cell–powered vehicles are no longer just a dream of the future. Most major automobile manufacturers have active fuel cell–powered vehicle programs. Today, you can take a ride in fuel cell–powered taxis in London or ride fuel cell–powered city buses in Vancouver or Chicago. Because a fuel cell produces electricity directly from hydrogen fuel, its application can be for anything that requires power in the form of electricity, rotary power, or heat. Currently, worldwide over 200 midscale 200-kW fuel cell power plants are supplying quiet, clean, efficient electrical power to office buildings and industrial plants.

Fuel cells require hydrogen for fuel. At the present time, most fuel cell–driven automobiles have some kind of system to break down liquid hydrocarbon fuels into hydrogen-rich fuels to drive the fuel cell. A fuel cell that operates on pure hydrogen and air has absolutely no harmful emissions (the byproduct is simply water vapor), but a fuel cell system that uses hydrocarbon fuels (gasoline, methanol, natural gas, etc.) does have some emissions, although they are significantly less than emissions from internal combustion engines. For example, General Motor’s Opel Zafira, an experimental fuel cell car that runs on methanol, has nearly zero sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions and only about 50 percent of the carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) emissions of a comparable internal combustion engine.

Currently, hydrogen to power fuel cells is most economically created by breaking down hydrocarbon-based fuels, such as natural gas or methanol. In the future, if renewable energy sources are sufficiently developed to generate most of the world’s electricity, it may become economical to use electricity to crack water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, producing hydrogen gas to power zero-emission fuel cell cars. Currently, due to electrical generation inefficiencies in fossil fuel power plants, using grid-generated electricity to produce hydrogen for fuel cell cars causes more harmful emissions and greenhouse gases than simply burning gasoline in an internal combustion engine.

Fuel Cells in the Home
Fuel cells produce quiet, clean electricity on demand at about twice the efficiency of burning fossil fuels and give off clean, usable, low-grade heat as a byproduct. They are a natural match for home cogeneration systems that provide both electricity and heat. Currently, several companies are working on residential fuel cell–powered
cogeneration systems. Demonstration units have been built, but commercially available residential systems appear to have run into significant snags, so I do not know whether or not these types of systems will become commercially viable in the near future. Home systems rely on a fuel processor to transform hydrocarbon fuels (typically natural gas or propane) into hydrogen for the fuel cells. Although the main emphasis of government-financed research has been on automotive applications, the technical problems for producing fuel processors for stationary systems are actually much simpler.

Click for a larger image.

Rediscovering Up-North Traditional Foods with Gary Nabhan

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

When author Gary Nabhan (Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods) led a group of locals—including Paula McIntyre, co-founder of Up North Foodies, and Eric Patterson, chef and co-owner of The Cooks’ House restaurant in Traverse City—around northern Michigan earlier this month, they weren’t entirely confident about what they could bring to the table. With 50 wild foods and more than 300 historically cultivated foods of the region on the list of potentially at risk foods, the depth of agricultural knowledge these little-known foods required seemed daunting.

Thankfully, when the group got together thef discovered their collective knowledge on local foods and foodsheds was actually pretty impressive. Which just goes to show you the value of getting together with people in your community and solving problems cooperatively. Not to mention the delicious foods you can discover (apple cherry hard cider? yum!).

As Eric…writes in his blog about attending the workshop, “I thought to myself, ‘Just keep quiet and they may think I belong here.’” Yet in spite of our individual doubts, we came to realize how clearly the collective wisdom of the group shone through.

“I was struck first by the vastness of experience of those who were there,” Eric writes. “I recognized many of the faces and knew many of them by name, but did not really know how knowledgeable they were in such things.”

Yes, Eric kept quiet for much of the workshop. But he shared his restaurant’s goal to identify what makes up the Great Lakes Cuisine. And while he already features a lot of local foods on his menu, and will soon open a market selling local foods, he writes, “I feel even more urgency in using local foods than before. Somehow the other restaurants in the area need to be convinced that they also need to buy more locally.”

Local chefs will play an important role in getting these traditional foods into the northern market, just as supportive chefs in Seattle helped bring the Makah Ozette potato back to the table there. And growers will need to step up to create a dependable supply to restaurants and markets so that the rest of us will want these foods and know they’ll be available.

[...]

For now, we’re left wondering what’s next. People are excited about the possibilities, and recognize this will be a long process. One next step is a Great Lakes regional workshop to be held this winter in Madison, Wisconsin. It will bring together a few people from locales throughout the region, including northern Michigan, to fine tune the list of at-risk foods. At that point, communities will begin planning recoveries, selecting perhaps a few varieties or species they would like to focus on. Eventually a book and strategy plan will be released, like those already published for other foodsheds.

In the meantime, we can all work together to begin the process. Become a food detective; explore partnerships; come up with creative projects for students; learn and share the stories of our northern Michigan varieties. When I think of how that group wisdom came through at the workshop, casting the net even wider to include everyone else in the community is even more promising. Let’s see what our collective effort will return to our plates!

Read the whole article here.

Washington Post Endorses “Cap and Return”

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

The editorial page of the Washington Post Sunday endorsed a policy Peter Barnes has been advocating for a long time now—most notably in his books Who Owns the Sky? and Climate Solutions: A Citizen’s Guide. It’s something the Post calls “Cap and Return” and Peter calls “Cap and Dividend.”

Essentially, to reduce the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere, the carbon that polluters buy would be taxed before it enters the atmosphere—in the form of permits—and put into a non-profit trust. Then, without the need for a massive government bureaucracy, every red cent of that carbon money would be wired to every American’s bank account.(For a more detailed explanation, visit capanddividend.org.)

The following is an excerpt from the Post story:

THERE ARE two powerful and opposing economic forces buffeting the American people that could undermine efforts to address global warming. Oil prices are the lowest they’ve been since June 2007. This good news at the pump may spell trouble for the environment if drivers return to the roads and reverse months of stunning reductions in gas consumption. Meanwhile, the looming recession will lessen the political will in Washington to pursue policies that would add costs to doing business or take money out of the thin wallets of consumers.

Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have committed to putting a price on carbon-burning fuels such as oil and coal through a cap-and-trade system of declining emissions allowances that would be auctioned off to polluters. We agree with Mr. Obama’s plan to auction 100 percent of the allowances to reach the goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2050. But how to accomplish this without exacerbating the recession? No problem. Return to the American people every penny of the trillions of dollars expected to be generated by these sales.

This is not a radical notion. In Canada, British Columbia already does what we are proposing. An economy-wide carbon tax was imposed in the province in July. The $1. 85 billion in Canadian dollars that it is expected to generate over the next three years will go back to the population in the form of reduced tax rates for all residents, corporations and small businesses. A climate action credit will be distributed to the poor to help with rising energy costs.

Read the whole article here.

Bioneering Effective Activism

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Bioneers by the Bay, presented by the Marion Institute, is an annual gathering of “biological pioneers” who use cutting edge approaches to environmental restoration. Their work encompasses technological innovation, economic strategies, social justice, and a spiritual connection to the natural world.

For these innovators, scientists, and grassroots leaders—as well as 2,000 regular folks—it’s an opportunity to share experiences and strategies for dealing with the challenges facing our world.

For author Dave Pollard, “the most valuable session was a ‘kitchen table’ discussion with Bioneers founders Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons”—a point-by-point roadmap of the most effective ways to bring about the change we need, if you will.

The following is an excerpt of some of the lessons he took away:

  1. Developing Holistic Change Frameworks & Approaches: The changes we are trying to accomplish are in systems that are all complex and all interrelated. We cannot isolate approaches to just environmental sustainability, or social justice, or health and nutrition, or quality affordable housing, or media reform, or education, or poverty, or women’s rights, or racial equality, or economic reform. We need to realize that change needs to occur in all of them, integrally, or no enduring change will occur in any of them. What is required is a coordinated “movement of movements”, a whole ecology of collaborative, shared ideas and activities. These efforts need overarching “big picture” frameworks that show the interconnectedness of the problems we face and how efforts in one area can reinforce (or impede) efforts in another. For example, we need to appreciate that many health problems have social (e.g. addiction), educational (e.g. ignorance of nutrition) and environmental (e.g. food toxins) problems underlying them.
  2. Focusing on Two Common Causes: Many of the aforementioned connected problems have our separation from nature and the weakening of local community at their root.
  3. Reaching Across Ideology to Find Shared Values: Our belief systems by themselves are not enough to bring about change. The movement has to be about more than shared ideology. It needs to build bridges, and “reach across” cultural divides to find common cause. Our opinions are not as important as what we value, because many people who differ in opinion share values.
  4. Using the Leverage Points: To be effective, we need to find the leverage points in the system, the places where the need for change is understood, where change is relatively easy to achieve, and where that change will provoke positive changes elsewhere.
  5. Relocalizing + Connecting: The change must be rooted in community, in a massive relocalization and decentralization and de-institutionalization of attention, connection, understanding, power, and effort. Communities need to coalesce, self-organize, and do things for themselves, and then connect with other communities to share their success stories and lessons learned. At higher levels, our political states are bureaucratized, disconnected, unmaneuverable, corporatist, and corrupted, and trying to reform them is largely a waste of time, money and energy.
  6. Making Change Easier: We need to focus on making it easier for people to change. We prevented an ozone layer disaster by simply making CFCs illegal, so refrigeration companies found and invented non-ozone depleting coolants, because they had no choice. Likewise, by ensuring that only energy-efficient light bulbs can be sold in the market, and that only energy-efficient, healthy new homes can be certified for sale, we make it easier for citizens to do the right thing. Working models that let people see how and why they work, and how to replicate them, are likewise useful.
  7. Educasting: A major obstacle to change is the public’s ignorance and lack of capacities to bring about needed changes. We need to start using the new media for “educasting” public information to inform and build capacities. While we should not give up trying to reform public education and mainstream media, we cannot rely on either to support educasting so we need to work around them.
  8. Delivering to Those in Need: We need a renewed focus on delivery systems for change, so that resources get to where they’re needed.
  9. Thinking Generations Ahead: We need long range thinking so that we always know where we are going, balanced with pragmatism and effective, sustained implementation. Example: The 50 Top Future Crops for New Mexico is a long-range objective that inspires and directs thinking and action about food production and nutrition in that state.
  10. Speaking in Understandable Terms: We must make sure the language we use is inclusive and accessible to people outside our circles of activism. Jargon can be a useful shorthand but also an impediment to communication and persuasion. The terms “environmentalist” and “activist” are not helpful because of connotations of “otherness” and anger, which is why the more inclusive, positive term “bioneers” was coined. Stories, of course, are immensely useful in increasing understanding.

Read the whole article here.

Photo courtesy connectingforchange.org.

Get a Big Harvest from Your Tiny Space

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

The economy is in the toilet (See: this week’s top post). You want to grow your own food and maybe save a little money on your grocery bills, while driving less and reducing your carbon footprint. But you live in a tiny, cramped studio apartment with little natural light and a neighbor who wakes you up at 4 every morning with a really disturbing coughing fit you can’t help but hear through your paper thin walls. Plus you got depression.

Well, slow down there, buddy. We can’t help with your neighbor’s smoker’s cough, or your emotional problems (actually, maybe we can), but we can help you with your indoor gardening.

Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting is a practical, comprehensive, and fun guide to growing food in small spaces. The AP’s Dean Fosdick talked to author R. J. Ruppenthal about container gardening, using vertical space, and cultivating strawberries, mushrooms, kefir, and more.

Here’s an excerpt:

Urban dwellers short of garden space have options when trying to stretch the family food dollar by growing their own produce. And it’s not such a bad thing that they must think small.

Large yields can be had from tight areas. It just takes some planning.

The darkest closet, for instance, can serve as an indoor mushroom patch. Kitchen countertops can be used for growing culinary herbs. Strawberries thrive when planted in multitiered pots near south-facing windows.

[...]

Here’s how to get more production from small spaces:

  • Succession planting is important if you hope to enjoy a continuous harvest. “Always be thinking about the next crop and get it started someplace else,” Ruppenthal said. “Cycle those things into the growing garden.”
  • Take advantage of reflected or artificial light. “That doesn’t mean putting up aluminum foil as much as it does taking advantage of the sunlight that reflects off windows and south facing walls,” he said. “Also, when there’s been a porch light or patio light left on at night, I’m always amazed at how much that contributed to plant growth at places where I’ve lived.”
  • Include some companion plants, which can be as attractive as they are edible. “If you add flowers, that might attract bees to help with vegetable pollination. The right varieties might also repel some of the bad insects.”
  • Consider growing berries or small fruits that can cope with cramped spaces and low light. “People might not normally think of growing a raspberry plant or lemon tree in their apartments, but it’s amazing how much one small bush or tree can produce over time,” Ruppenthal said. “You’re talking about a month’s worth of fresh fruit for an entire family.”
  • Self-watering boxes are great for urban gardeners. “Tomatoes and carrots just go wild in those things, which keep plants warmer and wetter than when they’re grown in the ground,” Ruppenthal said.
  • Direct some plants straight up or down. “Thinking vertical is a must if you’re hoping for some cucumbers or pumpkins or squash,” said Greg Stack, a University of Illinois extension horticulturist who works with gardeners in the Chicago area. “You also can grow beans and peas, grapes and berries on trellises, balcony rails, hanging baskets, on supports or along fences. Plant them in pots, and then train them to climb.”

[...]

It also might help if you converted a few neighbors into gardeners, Ruppenthal said. “Encourage them to use their own spaces productively, and you can trade or barter for the things you don’t have and want yourself.”

Read the whole article here.

The Towns are Taking Over

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

In the battle to reverse our society’s effect on the planet’s climate, large governments and organizations are proving to be too slow to change course than most citizens would like. People looking for quick action are taking responsibility into their own hands and working within their own communities where red tape isn’t a barrier to change.

Rob Hopkins, author of The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, is at the center of this new movement for organized, localized change. He was recently quoted in a story on CNN.com.

From the article:

“Within the oil crisis and climate change there is the opportunity for an economic, social and cultural renaissance the likes of which we have never seen before,” says environmentalist and perma-culture designer Rob Hopkins.

“If only we can just unleash all the creativity and genius around us, rather than just lurching from crisis to crisis.”

[...]

The movement was founded in Totnes, Devon, and Kinsale, Ireland, in 2005 and 2006, with the aim of helping those communities prepare for the twin challenges of peak oil output and climate change.

Since then it’s spread across the United Kingdom and to towns across the world.

There are now 60 other projects already in action, and nearly 700 others considering getting involved. There is even a Transition storyline on the popular BBC radio soap opera, “The Archers.”

Fundamentally, it’s a grassroots initiative, and Hopkins believes that the move to an oil-free society is about community and individuals more than industry and government.

While this has been a movement primarily located in the UK, it is spreading to the US. Boulder, Colorado and Sandpoint, Idaho are two of the first US towns to become indepedently-acting “transition towns.” These towns design and follow a plan for transitioning to a sustainable society.

For the full CNN article, click here. And for more information about spearheading the Transistion Town movement in your town, visit the Transition Towns Wiki.

The Soil Community

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

H. C. Flores in her book Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community, wrote this passage about the soil community that all land-dwelling creatures share.

From Food Not Lawns:

In The Soul of Soil activist educator and agronomist Grace Gershuny points out that all land-dwelling animals, including humans, are members of the soil community. She writes, “Humans disregard this fact at their own peril. Soil fertility has historically been squandered for the immediate enrichment of a few at the expense of future generations. Cultural values—ethics, aesthetics, and spiritual beliefs— have a profound influence on how soil is treated. [Because of this] political and social activism are essential components of soil stewardship.”

Unfortunately this is not the mainstream attitude toward growing food (or anything else having to do with the soil). Irresponsible agriculture has been responsible for the collapse of civilizations since time immemorial, and much of what are now the world’s vast deserts were once agricultural lands where the soil was not carefully cared for, such as in Peru, most of the Middle East, and large parts of Africa. In the last century the Dust Bowl of the Midwest was caused by unsustainable agriculture. Unless we put a stop to the excessive tillage, chemical inputs, and general disregard for the life in the soil, we are headed for a similar situation with what’s left of the prime agricultural lands in California and Oregon and beyond.

In the late 1800s chemical companies and government agencies started promoting chemical fertilizers, miracle pesticides, and laboratory-developed seeds. This trend led to a rapid decline in soil and human health, which was promptly met by a continued increase in dependency on more chemicals. As is their basic nature, insects, diseases, and weeds have adapted to each new, stronger dose of poison with increasing vigor, developing resistances that force chemical companies to develop even more lethal toxins each year. This chemical dependence is a self-perpetuating cycle, and it is passed on to consumers, who routinely suffer from malnutrition or straight-up poisoning as a result of a lifetime of eating toxic food. This is evident in the increased dependency of humans on pharmaceutical drugs and vitamin supplements to provide the essential life-giving nutrients that stripped, dying soils cannot.

Commercial agriculture is one of the most polluting, destructive industries in the world. Some two and a half billion pounds of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are used every year in the United States alone to mass-produce fast food for a consumer population that insists upon convenience at every corner. These chemicals poison drinking water worldwide and devastate soil communities.

Modern industrial agriculture is so toxic that 68 percent of farmworker pregnancies end in miscarriage, and cancer is the leading cause of death among farmers and farm laborers. Hundreds of different chemicals are routinely used in conventional farming, and residues are often present in nonorganic food, including high levels in baby food, spinach, dried fruit, bread, apples, celery, and potato chips. Many agricultural chemicals are made with known cancer-causing agents such as organochlorines, heavy metals, and chemical industrial wastes. The very same companies that profit from these poisons also control the advertising, research, and marketing sectors of the industry. Do you really want to continue to eat food from the same companies that make cleaning supplies, rat poison, and weapons?

It seems obvious, but chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides, manufactured for killing, do not stop with the bugs and weeds shown on the box. They kill everything, from butterfly eggs to beneficial nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Please never use these horrible substances in your garden. At best a cruel hoax, they are more likely a devastating curse upon humanity.

When we blanket the garden with deadly poisons and artificial fertilizers that destroy insect communities and shock the plants into unnatural growth spurts, we not only upset the balance of the natural community but also rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn what nature has to teach. This is an example of our dysfunctional relationship with nature. We see the evidence of this dysfunction everywhere, in widespread famine, war, and environmental devastation.

We can look back at history and see where societies structured much like our own have failed due to inadequate and unsustainable stewardship of agricultural lands.9 We can avoid repeating history by going organic, not just with our food, but throughout every aspect of our lives.

For more about soil stewardship and growing your own food, see this book, Food Not Lawns. For more about the chemical industry’s propaganda campaign and push into agriculture, see The War on Bugs by Will Allen.


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